DUBAI: As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to afflict thousands worldwide, influencers have been forced to rethink their perfectly curated aesthetics. Gone are the brightly filtered snaps of avocado toast and ‘Outfit-of-the-day’ posts. Instead, quick workout videos and makeup-free selfies are flooding our social media feeds as people practice social distancing in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.
“It’s time for us to utilize our platforms to voice concerns, spread awareness, share lighthearted humor, engage with our viewers and create content to lift people’s spirits,” Dubai-based Zeynab El-Helw, known as “Fashion Pirate” to her 1 million Instagram followers, told Arab News.
UAE-based fashion influencer Ola Farahat, who boasts 1.2 million followers on Instagram, agrees. “I think there is something empowering about sharing positivity, especially because the world is so saturated with depressing news at the moment,” she noted.
For a good cause! #FIGHTFORHEROES CHALLENGE: HOW MANY PUNCHES IN 60 SECONDS? It only takes #60seconds to show appreciation to real heroes. So listen up! @Masafi and I have launched a fitness challenge to show our gratitude to the heroic nurses and doctors fighting for us every day. The more posts we put out there the more gratitude we send them and @Masafi will provide free water to nurses, doctors and their families across the UAE. It’s simple! Check my upcoming story and join me in saying THANKS! Pick up any 2 bottles of water and start throwing as many punches as possible in 60 seconds Tag 3 of your friends and challenge them to beat your number! I nominate @lynjawharji @lubzfitness @mayawilliamz @rafalhabib @zarahzamira #FightForHeroes #FitnessChallenge #Masafi #NaturalWater #AlkalineWater #AskForNatural #StayHome #StayFit #knowyourwater
But can they do more?
According to Dr. Stephanie Alice Baker, lecturer in sociology at City, University of London, influencers may also play a significant role in helping to combat the spread of the virus by using their platforms to enforce the worldwide stay-at-home mandates.
Indeed, a big part of the fight against COVID-19 is getting information regarding government guidelines and regulations out to the public as quickly and efficiently as possible — and encouraging audiences to adhere to them. Just last month, a fitness influencer was detained by Dubai police for mocking the UAE’s stay-at-home rules on Instagram.
“Influencers play a particularly important role in encouraging the younger demographic to comply with lockdown rules and social distancing measures,” Baker said.
“Given that younger generations appear to have a relatively low risk of mortality from the virus, social media personalities are instrumental in using their influence to communicate the importance of such rules and measures,” she explains.
Social distancing rules mean that people are required to spend large amounts of time at home physically isolated from others, so those with a large social media following can also provide some much-needed entertainment while encouraging their followers to comply with the rules.
On the whole, social media consumption is soaring as more and more people around the world go under lockdown.
“We are seeing a move towards posts that portray how influencers are coping during the lockdown, which can be both informative and a source of entertainment,” explains Baker.
“Influencers have been able to turn these restrictions into opportunities to market products related to the domestic sphere including home workouts, DIY beauty, and cooking and cleaning items. The influencers who have stood out during the pandemic are those who use their brand to provide strategies for their followers to cope during the enforced lockdown.”
Baker went on to provide examples of public figures who have adapted their social media strategies during the pandemic, such as fitness guru Joe Wicks who is using his platform to provide free at-home workouts to children amid school closures.
“Fitness and wellness influencers have used their fame to promote health and diet advice on how to improve the immune system, for example, and avoid being more susceptible to the virus. There have even been instances of beauty bloggers and fashion influencers providing health advice.”
Korean beauty blogger Carey gave his followers practical COVID-19-related tips, including which disinfectant to use to kill the virus and how to choose a face mask.
Hady Hajjar, co-founder of the Dubai and Beirut-based Humanagment, coined the term “edutainment” — a portmanteau of the words education and entertainment — to describe how influencers can provide valuable information to their followers in an entertaining, lighthearted way.
“If you only take the entertainment route, you will potentially garner negative feedback,” Hajjar said. “On the other hand, your followers might get bored if your feed is solely dedicated to educating them on the pandemic. You have to balance it out.”
Hajjar believes that it is those who are able to generate creative content amid such uncertain times that will remain relevant after the pandemic.
Meanwhile, as the virus rages on, anxiety is rendering people increasingly susceptible to misinformation, with a flurry of conspiracy theories gaining traction in recent weeks. In particular, a conspiracy theory linking 5G wireless technology to COVID-19 has been spread by celebrities, including singer Kerry Hilson, as well as other known influencers.
Zainab Imichi Al-Hassan, co-founder of Dubai-based PR agency Pop Communications, believes that those with large followings must use their voice to tackle misinformation and prevent the spread of baseless and often dangerous theories to a wider audience.
“Influencers can also be helpful in advocating for campaigns against fake news, especially if the majority of their audience does not consume news through traditional mediums,” Al-Hassan said.
“Ultimately, influencers need to work together to initiate supportive campaigns to share useful and correct information as much as we can. It’s our responsibility to our community, to ourselves, our families and our global network,” El-Helw said.
“We can use our platforms to share information from WHO and other trusted organizations for kids following us,” Farahat added.
One thing is for certain: Whether you love them or hate them, with the ability to communicate instantly with millions of people worldwide using a single hashtag, the role of an influencer is more important now than ever.
Hams Saleh contributed to this report.